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Interview: Skam2

It’s been 20 years since the world officially met Slim Shady with the release of SSLP. An exclusive merchandise capsule marking the occasion wouldn’t be complete without the work of the two artists who provided iconic illustrations and photography for the album respectively.

To mark the occasion we linked up with Skam2, whose illustrations can be found in the original album packaging, for unique products that capture the era of SSLP, along with a bit of a retrospective on what it was like to work with Marshall during that time. See what he has to say about it all two decades later.

How did you first link up with eminem?

I was introduced to Paul (Rosenberg) by a mutual friend that felt I need representation. At that time he was a lawyer at the firm that now represents Em. Paul let me hear the Slim Shady EP. Back then, they weren’t that connected with the NY underground scene, and I felt that it needed to be heard. So, I passed it on to a few key underground college radio folks like Bobbito, Mayhem, Baruch, Stony Brook, etc. A.L. Skills and I then took his music up to Riggs at The Source to get him the Unsigned Hype feature. Riggs later ended up being an A&R at Shady for a while. Somewhere in the middle of all that I eventually met Em on one of his trips to NY when he’d come in for shows and studio sessions. We had a lot in common and would hang whenever he was in town.

“I even got the underground stuff you did with Skam2”. What was it like working with Eminem this early in his career?

He was referring to my song “3hree6ix5ive” on “Stan”. When he and Proof played me that line over the phone, I had no idea of the context, so I was just like “Sick, That’s wassup”. They had a better idea of how epic the song was and how big it might be. Honestly, working back then wasn’t anything more than hanging out with your homie and making music; that’s one of the best ways to make music in my opinion. Recording “3hree6ix5ive” & 5 Star Generals (some of that Rawkus shit) at DJ Spinna’s was just fun and Spinna’s studio was home turf. Em had experience and was pretty seasoned at the time, so I learned a bit from just peeping what he was doing: linear buildups, connectivity and taking the punchlines up a notch. I learned about compounds from him and Proof. Em and Shadow would push me to be more personal with my music. Took me a while but I finally got there. So in short, a bit of learning, a lot of rhyming and even more jokes.

What brought about being commissioned to do the illustrations for the SSLP?

More of the homie thing. Em and Paul just figured that I knew the music well enough to visually do it justice, so they just let me do my thing. No suggestions, no notes. I sketched up the Mummy during one of his sessions. I honestly didn’t even deviate that much from the original sketch.

Where did you pull inspiration from for the SSLP art?

“If you ever see video for this shit, I’ll probably be dressed up like a mummy with my wrist slit”. That line from “Cum On Everybody” brought about the Mummy. I think it was one of my favorite lines from that song. Or at least the one that stood out to me the most. “As the World Turns” and “My Fault” Inspired the Trailer scene. The screaming Vicodin was expansion of one of the pills from the Mummy scene. There were other pieces that didn’t get used that we will be unveiling for these 20th-anniversary drops that I think the fans will get a kick out of.

In ’99, did you have any idea how big the album and Em’s career would get?

The label didn’t wan’t to spend too much on artwork for an unproven artist. Understandable, but I was riding with them on it. So yeah, I did have an idea. Not the full scope though, but coming from a skateboarding, punk and metal background, I knew the vibe and attitude of the music was something that wasn’t really done in rap at the time and there would be a lot of kids who he would be a voice for. I don’t think that the average underground hip hop personality was on it like that. So it was a truly underserved market. When Paul played me “My Name Is” and told me he dyed his hair blonde I thought he hit the L.A. shit pretty hard and didn’t quite get it. But when I saw the video, I started to see it take shape for real.

What’s it like reflecting back on the SSLP and your work on it 20 years later?

It’s a trip to see all the people who have my art tatted on them and tell me how they used to draw the pill and the mushroom when they were younger. Some have even told me how exposure to that art cemented their decision to pursue art. As a fan of music, I know first hand how the visuals can complete the experience for a great album so I’m appreciative of my work being thought of in that manner and even more psyched to know that something I did inspired someone in any positive way.

Anything else you want the fans to know?

As far as music goes, I’m about to release some Robots Make Better People material to follow up “Flying Monkey Murder Cirkus” as well as solo work. On the visual side, a collective art book, comic cons, comic art, galleries and whatever else I can get into.

Interview: Danny Hastings

Having worked with a number of established hip-hop icons before SSLP, Danny Hastings knew a legend when he saw one. That's how he ended up shooting the now iconic album cover of The Slim Shady LP.

To celebrate 20 years of SSLP, we asked Hastings to dig into his archive for never before seen photos from the original album cover shoot. These photos, along with the classics, are used throughout our exclusive merchandise capsule.

For a deeper look at what went into the shoot (pre-Photoshop and other editing tools) and how it came to be, check out Hastings' Q&A below.

Before working with Eminem, you shot hip hop legends and contributed photography for highly regarded classics - Wu Tang, Big Pun, Nas, etc - what was it like working with Eminem so early before he took off? What was your first impression of him?

My first impression of Eminem in comparison to other "more famous rappers" at the time when I shot Slim Shady, was that Em was the nicest, most humble, respectful and collaborative artist I’ve ever worked with. I’m serious. Up until then, the majority of rappers I felt were very self conscious. There were certain things a rapper would not do for the camera in the 90’s. They never made fun of themselves. Em was not afraid of looking silly for visual support of his music. He got serious when he needed to get serious and fun when he needed to get fun. He brought something different to the table and I recognized that immediately and appreciated that. It was like a breath of fresh air. When I heard his music, I was blown away. When we met, we clicked right away. He was young and new to the game and because I shot a bunch of his heroes, he was willing to try anything for the shot. I was like: "put this light on your head, trust me it's gonna be dope", and Em was like "lets do it”. Em was a blank canvas, I got to create some great imagery with him.

Would you have guessed in 1999 Eminem would still be at it 20 years later? Did you have any idea how the next 20 years would go back in ’99?

The record company send me an advance copy to find inspiration for the photographs, and as soon as I heard it, I knew he was going to be big. Remember, in 99 I already had a bunch of platinum records under my belt. As soon as I heard the music, I knew he was going to become #1. I don’t think he knew at the time. The day of the shoot, I remember clearly his manager Paul Rosenberg, another cool brother, he said to me he has to take Em to his first MTV appearance, so we had to break the shoot and come back to continue. If you look for Em’s first appearance on MTV, that day… He left the my studio, to go and shoot a quick interview with Carson Daily and then he came back to finish the shoot with me. With the work ethic I got to see first hand that Paul and Em had, I knew it was going to be a success. When he came back I remember asking him: What was it like to be on MTV for the first time? and he replied "He felt very blessed".

What was your inspiration for the SSLP shoot?

His lyrics. His lyrics inspired the photography techniques I used. I wanted to do something different. I wanted to show the fans that we were inside the mind of a lyrical maniacal genius.

You executed the shoot fully analog, no photoshop. What all went behind some of these shots that frankly look as good as photoshop? What is it like to look back on these techniques 20 years later?

OH the film days!! I miss film. I study traditional photography, not only techniques in the camera but also techniques in darkroom. The complete photographer in my days was the one that developed his or her pictures. Taking your pictures to the lab, to me, was amateurish. This is my opinion. Printing your work was something that no one could do better than you. I relied on lab techniques like, burning, dodging, Cross Processing and Color CMY dials on the Enlarger. I could ad in the darkroom my final touches. Nothing I ever shot was normal so I couldn’t just send my work to a LAB, I had to print it myself. Most photo labs would always try to color correct my work, I didn’t want my work white balanced. I would crank up blue, or red, or the contrast on the film by dumping the film in the wrong chemicals (Cross Processing) and experimenting that way. I was the Instagram Filter before Instagram… lol… but it wasn’t just pressing a filter button, it took a lot of work to get a stylized artistic picture without Photoshop, you needed to understand ALL THE ELEMENTS OF PHOTOGRAPHY.

On the studio, I challenged myself even further. If you look at the blue pics I did of Em, You will see some graphic texture in front and behind him. I hired an artist to freestyle some graphic work in the the background to add some texture then I had him do the same to a 5 x 5 clear plexiglass. I placed Em in between the glass and the background. You don’t understand how hard is to shoot a subject behind a glass. I had to black out the entire studio, create a box around the plexiglass so that I didn’t get any reflections, all of this while testing images with polaroids. At the end of the shoot, you never really knew what you had in the film canister. You couldn’t see it for 2 to 3 days. That was the magic of film, the latent image. Latent Image is Dead.

You and Em have worked together since ’99 - what has it been like working with him throughout his career?

It's waaaaayyyyy different now, and rightfully so. He is one of the most important music artist of the century. He put in the work and came on top. When I shot the first album he just showed up with Paul, It think they cabbed it to the studio. Today it’s a big production. Creatively he is always open, he is a lot of fun to work with.

Anything else you want the fans to know?

He is kind of reserved, and quite honestly he is very quiet. I think it’s because he is always thinking… I can tell the wheels are turning on him all the time.